Fear and loathing set the tone.The tea-party movement has no leader. But it does have a face: William Temple of Brunswick, Ga. For months, the amiable middle-aged activist has been criss-crossing America, appearing at tea-party events dressed in his trademark three-cornered hat and Revolutionary garb. When journalists interview him (which is often—his outfit draws them in like a magnet), he presents himself as a human bridge between the founders' era and our own. "We fought the British over a 3 percent tea tax. We might as well bring the British back," he told NPR during a recent protest outside the Capitol. It's a charming act, which makes the tea-party movement seem no more unnerving than the people who spend their weekends reenacting the Civil War. But the 18th-century getups mask something disturbing. After I spent the weekend at the Tea Party National Convention in Nashville, Tenn., it has become clear to me that the movement is dominated by people whose vision of the government is conspiratorial and dangerously detached from reality. It's more John Birch than John Adams.Like all populists, tea partiers are suspicious of power and influence, and anyone who wields them.
Steve Malloy, author of Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Ruin Your Life, kicked off the first full day of conference proceedings by warning that Obama and his minions are conspiring to control every aspect of Americans' lives—the colors of their cars, the kind of toilet paper they use, how much time they spend in the shower, the temperature of their homes—all under the guise of U.N. greenhouse-gas-reduction schemes. "Obama isn't a U.S. socialist," Malloy thundered. "He's an international socialist. He envisions a one-world government."
I consider myself a conservative and arrived at this conference as a paid-up, rank-and-file attendee, not one of the bemused New York Times types with a media pass. But I also happen to be writing a book for HarperCollins that focuses on 9/11 conspiracy theories, so I have a pretty good idea where the various screws and nuts can be found in the great toolbox of American political life.
Within a few hours in Nashville, I could tell that what I was hearing wasn't just random rhetorical mortar fire being launched at Obama and his political allies: the salvos followed the established script of New World Order conspiracy theories, which have suffused the dubious right-wing fringes of American politics since the days of the John Birch Society.
That doesn't say much for the state of the right in America. The tea partiers' tricornered hat is supposed to be a symbol of patriotism and constitutional first principles. But when you take a closer look, all you find is a helmet made of tin foil.
Some of the kooky theories include:
1. The documentary, The Obama Deception, claims Obama's candidacy was a plot by the leaders of the New World Order to "con the Amercican people into accepting global slavery"
2. America's 21st-century traumas signal the coming of a great political cataclysm, in which a false prophet such as Barack Obama will upend American sovereignty and render the country into a godless, one-world socialist dictatorship run by the United Nations from its offices in Manhattan.
3."A U.N. guard stationed in every house."
4. Obama was seeking to destroy America's place in the world and sell Israel out to the Arabs for some undefined nefarious purpose.
5. The "birther" claim that America's president might actually be an illegal alien who's constitutionally ineligible to occupy the White House.
Last week Rep Michelle Bachmann insisted that America is 'cursed' if it doesn't stand by Israel. It now makes sense that she believes in these conspiracy theories.
At a Republican Jewish Coalition event in Los Angeles last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann offered a candid view of her positions on Israel: Support for Israel is handed down by God and if the United States pulls back its support, America will cease to exist.
I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States . . . [W]e have to show that we are inextricably entwined, that as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play.
You might call them nut-cakes, fruit-jobs or just plan kooks. But because of right-wing blogs, talking heads and politicians like Bachmann and Palin, these fringe elements of the conservative party are gaining undeserved recognition.